Recently I talked with a group of third- and fifth-graders about how to cultivate creativity in a young life, and one of the first questions they asked me was this one: Who were your biggest influences when you were a kid?
I hadn’t pre-prepared for any of the questions they asked me, even though I should have known they would come. Kids are curious about what (and who) shapes adults to become who they are. And there were so many influences along my journey—but what they all had in common was that they were authors. This is because, even as a child, I was a reader. A writer. A girl who knew what I wanted to be before I ever had a clue what it meant to be grown up.
During a recent year of writing poetry based off the words of famous writers, artists, and influential people, I stumbled across this quote from Francois Mauriac, a French novelist, dramatist, critic, poet, and journalist: “Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are is true enough, but I’d know better if you told me what you re-read.”
These words ring true in my life.
There are so many good things to read. I read mostly middle grade fiction, more young adult fiction recently. I read a poem a day from various poets. I read some adult literature, but not much. I read the classics.
What I re-read is a much smaller list, but it points to who I am. The most re-read book on my shelf is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, followed closely by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Rilke’s collected poetry, Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes, everything Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison have written, and Katherine Applegate’s Home of the Brave and The One and Only Ivan.
Though we rarely recognize it, books shape us into who we are. We spend hours, days, sometimes even weeks with them, and we are always changed by the end of them. And the ones we re-read change us even more.
Books offer us new ideas, tell us who we might be, open us to the lives of other people who are different than we are.
They show us a way forward. They prove that we can overcome, we can do better, we are made to be heroes of whatever story we’re living. They remind us that this—the shadow we’re wrestling with right now—is not the end of the story.
These are all the things I love most about books.
So as we begin a new year, I want to encourage you to find more time to pick up those books stacked on your shelf. Sort through the list you’ve been keeping in the back of your mind. Read one more book a month than you did last year.
And then re-read it. Let it teach you fully what it has to say.
I’ll be doing the same.
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